They did everything they were supposed to do – but something unexpected happened. An excavation crew hit and ruptured a gas line while replacing a water main in Coquitlam. More than 100 people were evacuated, buses were re-routed, and roads were closed.
The first question that came to mind, when I heard about it on CBC radio, was “Did they call first?” Did they get in touch with BC One Call – the province-wide non-profit organization that urges people to “call before you dig”?
As it turns out, they did call first.
“They did have the current information on site from BC One Call and they were using mechanized equipment within an appropriate distance from our pipelines,” said FortisBC spokesperson Kirsten Walker, quoted in this story in the Coquitlam Now.
“This particular pipeline is approximately 40 years in age. What we know is that it’s not on our mapping records… Really, it is a rare situation. Only less than one percent of our pipeline damages occur because of incorrect mapping records.”
Keeping track of what’s underground
I emailed Kirsten to find out more. She said almost 99 percent of pipeline damages related to construction activity result from two key factors: either they didn’t phone BC One Call for the location of gas lines, or they didn’t follow safe excavation practices.
“It should be remembered that excavators dig around gas pipelines every day and the majority of them follow safe digging practices. These operators should be commended for their good practices,” Kirsten said via email, adding that these type of incidents are on the decline in BC. “This decrease can be attributed to a greater awareness of safe excavation practices and an increase in the use of BC One Call.”
BC has seen an overall decline in the number of third-party pipeline damages related to construction activity – with about 1,200 incidents in 2011, down from about 1,400 in 2009 and 2010.
Numbers still too high
Despite the improvements, there’s more work to be done. The BC Common Ground Alliance (which FortisBC is a founding member of) is a non-profit organization that tracks damage incidents and their primary causes. They see if the number of incidents is going up or down, and they look at why some educational campaigns for industry are more successful than others.
One such campaign is DigSafeBC, a travelling one-day seminar that “teaches construction workers, contractors, landscapers, irrigation technicians, railway workers, road crews, city workers, and anyone else who digs, how to avoid buried pipelines, cables, and other underground infrastructure,” reads the Alliance website.
In Metro Vancouver, call BC One Call at 604-257-1940. Elsewhere in BC, call toll-free 1-800-474-6886, or key *6886 on Telus & Rogers cell networks. You can also submit an e-ticket.
For more information on preventing contact with gas lines and other utilities, see WorkSafeBC’s publication Prevention of Damage to Buried Facilities in British Columbia (PDF 340kb).